Just over ten years ago I embarked on my first assignment for this magazine—a profile of Chuck Palahniuk, who was at that point a relatively new writer in Portland, Oregon, and whose star was just beginning to rise. One of the people I needed to talk to for the story was Tom Spanbauer, a local writing guru and somewhat of a mentor to Palahniuk who is the author today of four novels, including Now Is the Hour (Houghton Mifflin, 2006).
Looking back, what I remember about Spanbauer’s house is this: It was dark and quiet. He had an old computer sitting in the middle of a table in his dining room. Since this was a decade ago, I pointed to it and asked if he could “dial up” from there. His exact wording is gone now, but he said something to this effect: “Writing, for me, is a deeply private affair, and I can’t imagine making the place I write so public.”
“Get with the times, old man!” I thought to myself. But still the idea lodged itself deep in my mind and has resonated ever since. Maybe I didn’t quite realize how much I was already beginning to struggle with the same dilemma. And surely I had no idea how much that tension would grow as connective technology, in all its forms, threatened to consume the dark, private corners where I could be alone with my own thoughts.
But now we are well into that era, and many of us have felt this strain far more acutely, as access to the Internet has become ubiquitous and effortless, and the amount of information out there has become nearly i...